August 3, 2016

Responding to Miracle Claims

by Eric Davis

benny-hinn-prayer“But I’m telling you, I saw it! I was there and it really happened.”

Often miracle claims are brought before us. Fairly regularly, I hear of things like local, impromptu, evangelistic, healing events during which individuals were approached at random, prayed over, and healed of some various physical ailment. The claim might be followed by an individual testifying sincerely that it happened or a video documenting the healing miracle as undeniable proof that the pain departed, the crutches dropped, or the oppression lifted. Excitement erupts. God is at work. The Spirit is moving. It’s a God thing. How could it not be?

But is it? How should we respond to these things? After all, well-meaning and sincere professing Christians saw it and documented it, so how could it be denied? Why wouldn’t the Holy Spirit want to do that? And doesn’t that mean that the Spirit wants to use us in such ways?

It’s astonishing how flippantly we Christians sometimes claim miracles. Scripture beckons us to exercise great caution here. In this order, here is how I would generally respond to a friend’s miracle claim:

  1. It’s probably best to avoid denying the individual’s experience.

Usually, it’s more profitable to avoid playing the “that-didn’t-happen” card. Granted, it may not have. But this can quickly deteriorate into a, “No it didn’t!” “Yes it did!” ping-pong match. And, something very well may have happened (see #7, 8, and 9 below).

Instead of bringing our negation to bear on their experience, we owe it to the individual to bring the word of God to bear. That way, the authority of inerrant Scripture, rather than our “Nuh-uhh,” becomes the issue.

Further, it’s helpful to ask, “What do you mean by a miracle?” Child-birth, for example, though remarkable, is not a miracle. A miracle is when God works contrary to his established laws of creation (e.g. raising the dead).

  1. God can do miracles and it’s ok to pray for them.
do_miracles_happen-720x340

truthortradition.com

And praise him that he has, can, and does. Our God sits in the heavens and does whatever he pleases. It has pleased him to divide seas and rivers, rewind days, and cease storms. And though nature miracles have been, for the most part, limited to a few small clusters of history (Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, and Christ and the apostles), spiritual miracles have not been. The greatest miracle is turning depraved spiritual corpses into regenerate children of God.

And it’s ok to pray for miracles. Whether it be a debilitating disease, traumatic accident, or salvation, it’s loving to pray for miracles in these kinds of situations.

But the argument typically goes beyond this: “So you’re saying that God can’t/won’t do miracles?!” The case seems closed because we never want to say that God cannot do something. But the discussion is broader than that. The existence of Scripture as God’s authoritative word has massive implications on proper understanding of life’s experiences, especially the miraculous. Speaking of which…

  1. When it comes to miracles, or any experience, our experiences and perceptions must not be our interpretive authority.

Our interpretive authority is that criteria by which we interpret experiences and perceptions so as to make absolute conclusions about them. Generally, there exist two interpretive authorities; God’s word and everything else (e.g. human reasoning, a textbook, famous philosophers, majority opinion, false religion). For example, if I interpret every bad dream I have as Satan attacking me because a friend told me it was so, my interpretive authority is that friend, not Scripture.

In each stream of life, we exercise some interpretive authority. When it comes to experiencing and perceiving miracles, Scripture is to be our interpretive authority. Why? Because of what Scripture is; God-breathed revelation (2 Tim. 3:16-17, 2 Pet. 1:20-21). The repercussions of what Scripture is are major. Since it is God-breathed, it is inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient as our interpretive authority (Ps. 12:6, 119:89; Prov. 30:5; John 17:17; Titus 1:2; 2 Pet. 1:3).

Much of this boils down to, “How do we know what we know?” It’s a question of knowledge and authority. And I wish that more of my miracle-claiming friends would dwell longer on this matter because this is the heart of the issue. Far more than being about, “I saw it!” or, “Come on, don’t you believe God can do miracles?!”, this is about how we know what we know.

Since Scripture is the word of God, it is authoritative in determining what we know. It overrides everything as our interpretive authority. Which is to say, God’s interpretation overrides man’s interpretation, no matter how intense the experience was. So, before confidently attributing a miracle to a thing that God seems to be doing, we need be prepared to submit to Scripture.

WQ-Flow-1

westmainbaptist.com

Consider an example. Imagine that you unexpectedly lose your job and are short $1500 for a month’s budget. So, you and three friends fast for one day. At the end of the day, you pray together for an hour on top of a local mountain. The next day, an anonymous check shows up for $1500. If we used experience as our interpretive authority, we would conclude that fasting with three friends for a day and praying for an hour on a mountain is the means to get big prayers answered. If we used Scripture as our interpretive authority, we would find no such formula. We would find that God is good, sovereign over all things, and does as he pleases. Also, we would find individuals sometimes failing to receive what they ask for in prayer (e.g. 2 Cor. 12:8-9). Would this mean that we cease fasting and praying? No, because Scripture contains commands for both. More generally, our correlations must go no further than what Scripture permits.

Even the miracle-working apostle Peter took this route. In 2 Peter 1:16-21, he recalls the incredible experience of Christ’s transfiguration. But he concludes that Scripture is the “more sure” authority and source of knowledge (2 Pet. 1:19). In effect, Peter is saying, “Look, the Bible, rightly understood, is to be my absolute guide in determining what I should conclude about my experiences.” By application, then, Peter would say to us, “You and others seem to have experienced some healings? Ok, I have some miracle experience. But, before you celebrate, ‘These are real miracles! And the Spirit is working through us!’ go to the thing that can tell you exactly how to understand your experience; the Bible. Because there is more going on here than you might think.” And Peter might say, “Are you more interested in submitting to everything that the Bible has to say about miracles or being able to believe and tell others that a miracle happened?”

Scripture is to form my conclusions more than my opinions, desires, and even experiences. And if not, then, whether intentionally or not, I am saying, “Well, God, yes, you have spoken about this issue by your Spirit. But, I do not want to take into consideration everything you’ve said. So, I am going to hold to my biased, poorly informed view on this matter and call it a ‘God thing’ anyways.”

But this will not do. We are prohibited from interpreting miracles in a way contrary to Scripture.

And if it is determined that a miracle did occur, praise God! Give him glory. And stay focused on what Scripture commands, which does not include the chasing of, or fixation upon, miracles.

  1. No one has the spiritual gift of miracles and healing as defined in Scripture.

This not to say that miracles never happen through people (see #’s 7, 8, and 9 below). But it is to say that no one possesses the gift of miracles and healing as it is described in the NT. It’s at this point that many of my charismatic friends walk away from the conversation. But I would urge them to honestly study the issue from Scripture.

foundation

re-gel.com

When the first century closed, the spiritual concrete had been poured for the footers and foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20). All that Jesus did through the apostles was poured into the forms upon which our church rests today. The apostolic gifts, the miracles, the ecclesiological pioneering, the inspiration of the canon—it all rests in the foundation giving the stability of the church for some twenty centuries so far.

And on a lesser note, if individuals did possess the NT gift of healing and miracles, then they should be flown every day to a different ICU around the world.

  1. Miracle claims should be verified.

If actual physiological miracle-healings are occurring, then let’s get medical professionals involved. Let’s have them pull up the records, confirm the previous ailment, and verify physiologically that the healing occurred. Go get the X-Ray, MRI, CT, or exam from your regular GP. Have them compare your last physical and verify that the “miracle” was indeed so; that it is not regressing or a temporary pain relief that is coming back or some placebo effect. That way, they can see it for themselves, and, more importantly, hear about the Jesus who propitiated the wrath of God due their sin in order to give them the miracle of the new birth. But of course, if they will not believe the more-sure Scriptures, then neither will a miracle convince them (cf. Luke 16:31).

Claims of miracles ought to be verified so that glory can be given to God.

  1. Biblical miracles had distinct characteristics.

Healing miracles in Scripture were profound displays of God’s power. We could define a biblical healing as God’s power demonstrated through a human mediator with the result that a specific physiological ailment was instantaneously, completely, and undeniably healed. They were not gradual. No follow-up healing appointments were required. And they typically involved a major display of power. Quadriplegics walked. The blind saw. The dead were raised

When Peter did miracles (Acts 3:8, 9:40), he was not shooing away aches, adding an inch to a leg, or lifting emotional clouds. Nor did he have to repeat incantations in the name of Jesus with increasing force and volume to warm up the Holy Spirit. With a word, God repaired spinal cords, neurons, atrophied limbs, and death. Thus, we should compare our miracle claims to those of Scripture.

  1. Miracles can be performed by those who worship false gods.

The presence of legitimate miracles is no sign that it is a God thing. In fact, it could be a Satan thing.

egyptplantFor example, prior to Israel’s exodus, the pagan Egyptian magicians were able to perform three of the miracles. They turned their staffs into snakes (Exod. 7:11-12), changed the Nile into blood (Exod. 7:22), and made frogs come up on the land (Exod. 8:7). And, during the Tribulation, Satan and his associates will perform various signs and wonders (cf. Rev. 13:3, 13).

I’ve heard miracle claims from both sides of redemption. For every one miraculous thing that someone’s uncle’s cousin’s co-worker’s son’s friend’s missionary friend whose name he can’t remember saw in an unverifiable African village in the name of God, there are three miraculous things that a close friend experienced in a verifiable pagan festival in our town in the name of Gaia. I’ve heard of many miracles from professing believers. And I’ve heard many from professing unbelievers.

I don’t know if these claims are authentic. But I do know this: Satan is an angel of light. He’s capable of doing powerful things through pagans. Unbelievers are, whether knowingly or not, servants of Satan. A miracle is not an automatic sign that God’s favor is among us.

  1. God has used miracles to test individuals.

At times in history, God has permitted miracles, not to bless, but test. Israel was warned accordingly:

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God…” (Deut. 13:1-5).

In 1 Kings 22, God permitted a “deceiving spirit” to enter some 400 prophets to give false counsel.

And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; and the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has declared disaster for you” (1 Kings 22:19-23).

Though not a miracle per se, the incident demonstrates that God has permitted teachers who profess faith in him to be led astray by satanic influence for retributive reasons. In this case, 400 supposed teachers of God’s word were caused to falsely prophesy. All of this suggests that we should exercise restraint with miracle (and prophecy) claims.

  1. Miracles in the name of Christ by professing Christians are no sign of the presence of salvation or true Christian worship.

One of the most sobering passages in Scripture comes from Matthew 7.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matt. 7:21-23).

According to Jesus, not few, but many people assume that they are going to heaven, but will be turned away in the judgment. These will be individuals who professed Christ as Lord and performed “many miracles” in his name. They assumed that they believed in Jesus. They approached people, commanded healings in the name of Jesus, and experienced apparent miracles. Those were the things they often looked to and counted on as God’s blessing and the presence of the Spirit. However, Jesus says there will be a large number of such individuals who are sent to hell.

  1. True signs of the Holy Spirit have nothing to do with miraculous healings.

Much of this issue centers on widespread, erroneous pneumatology in our day. Evangelicalism has capriciously assigned works to the Holy Spirit which God does not. Thus, it behooves us to carefully study who the Spirit is and what he does.

Miracles can be performed by devout pagans and Satan. Many individuals performing miracles in the name of Jesus will be turned away by Christ in the judgment. Therefore, the presence of miracles is no evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work.

  1. Miracles were not part of Christ’s commanded mission, nor considered evangelism.

preach-itOften healing-evangelism is excitedly recounted as, “We were able to encourage many people with God’s healing love!” along with a report of the various healings. But more importantly, did those with departed back pain hear that God is willing to divert their due, eternal pain if they mourn their sin and surrender in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ? In other words, did evangelism occur? Which is to say, did we really love them?

In the NT, the concept and doing of evangelism always has to do with preaching the content of Christ crucified in the place of sinful man that he might repent and be reconciled to God under the lordship of Christ. If our evangelism merely consists of telling people that God wants to heal and bless them, then we have fallen short of evangelism.

Proper understanding of miracle claims requires God’s word as our interpretive authority. A brief consideration of Scripture’s teaching on miracles demands we exercise caution with respect to their claims. We must interpret miracles in light of the many things which Scripture has to say about the matter. The miracle that we can say is the work of God with absolute certainty is salvation. Other than that, there are a variety of possibilities which must be carefully considered before we cry, “Miracle!”

Eric Davis

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Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their 3 children.
  • Excellent, very helpful.

    I will add one: if a person tells you about the miracles they perform, and you do not respond with total faith in what they’re telling you, and they began to curse you in a foreign tongue (babbling), it probably wasn’t from God. Not that that’s ever happened…:)

    • Eric Davis

      Indeed, thanks Michael.

  • 4Commencefiring4

    Miracle: n., An event or occurrence which every relevant principle of science, established fact, and all past experience make completely and utterly impossible, until it happens.

    All kinds of things *reportedly* happen in this world that depart from all our past experience and knowledge, from physical miracles, to alien encounters, to sightings of Bigfoot or Nessie…even to hearing Hillary tell the truth.

    Whether we are deceived, or the witness is somehow mistaken, or it’s just made up for unknown reasons, we can’t usually say. And we can’t be everywhere at once.

    But another thing to keep in mind is that christians are not obligated to explain everything that might happen. Our knowledge is limited to a relatively small universe of all that’s knowable; in fact, isn’t that what we argue with an atheist? That God might exist in that vast area of knowledge he doesn’t possess?

    I’m a natural skeptic, so I look a bit askance at all kinds of claims. I know my eyes can tell me one thing, and the reality is another: the magician didn’t really saw the woman in half, no matter how it appears; and I don’t know how the six of diamonds became the queen of spades while it was in my own pocket. But it somehow did.

    As long as I don’t bet the rent, I guess it’ll be OK.

  • Jane Hildebrand

    With all the warnings that Jesus and the apostles gave of the counterfeit miracles and signs that would precede His coming, it amazes me that people are so easily deceived. I see it as a mercy of God that the miracles of the early church ceased in order that we would be able to recognize the counterfeit to come.

    • Eric Davis

      That’s a great point, thanks Jane.

      • bs

        Um, how is “the miracles of the early church ceased…” a great point?

        • Eric Davis

          Hi bs – As addressed briefly in #4 above, Scripture teaches that the NT spiritual gift of miracles ceased with the apostolic era. I referenced a few additional resources there. I do not take that to mean that miracles no longer happen (#1 above), but that the NT gift ceased. Thanks

          • bs

            Eric, this doesn’t really answer how Jane’s final sentence is “a great point”. The sentence seemed to imply that we can recognise counterfeit miracles because we _know_ the gift of miracles ceased with the apostolic era. Maybe we need to be a bit less certain especially when the resources we rely on don’t always say what we might think they say.
            Peace

          • Jane Hildebrand

            “Maybe we need to be a bit less certain especially when the resources we rely on don’t always say what we might think they say.”

            To that point, perhaps a study of church history would bring more clarity to this issue for you. In John MacArthur’s book “Strange Fire”, the last chapter is entitled, “Voices from Church History”. It includes quotes starting with the early church fathers and down through time regarding how the miracles had ceased after that apostolic era. It is truly worth examining.

          • bs

            Jane, I have read the quotes from church history that are in the Cripplegate posts that were referenced via Eric’s post above. These do not inspire confidence that the church fathers & co are being understood.

            Peace

          • Jane Hildebrand

            bs, here are a few quotes from the early church fathers and others that are very understandable. Hope this helps.

            (Commenting on 1 Cor. 12) “This whole place is very obscure, but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place.” (John Chrysostom 344-407)

            “The visible outpouring of the Holy Spirit was necessary to the establishment of the early church, as were the miracles that accompanied the gift of the Holy Ghost. Once the church had been established and properly advertised by these miracles, the visible appearance of the Holy Ghost ceased.” (Martin Luther 1483-1546)

            “Though Christ does not say exactly whether He wished miracle working to be an occasional gift, or one to abide in His church forever, we certainly see that their use ceased not long after the apostolic age, or at least, instances of them were so rare that we may gather they were not equally common to all ages. It was the result of absurd greed and self-seeking among those who followed on that they made up empty fabrications in order that they should not altogether lack miracles. This threw the door wide open to Satan’s lies, not only with delusions taking the place of faith, but with simple men being pulled off the right road by the pretext of signs. The gift of healing, like the rest of the miracles, which the Lord willed to be brought forth for a time, has vanished away in order to make the new preaching of the gospel marvelous forever.” (John Calvin 1509-1564)

            “But since the canon of the scripture has been completed, and the Christian church fully founded and established , these extraordinary gifts have ceased.” (Johnathon Edwards 1703-1758)

            Anyway, these are just a few of the many that are out there. Again as Eric said, it is not that miracles do not happen, but that the New Testament gifts (as seen in that age) have ceased and history verifies that. Peace to you.

          • bs

            No Jane, history does _not_ VERIFY that, “history” can never VERIFY any NON-occurrence.
            Let’s consider your quote from Calvin (incidentally, you didn’t reference any of your quotations which is sad) He basically says that he has not observed any examples of miracle working or that any that he has heard about he attributes to fabrication — he does suggest a reason for this, and although we might consider Calvin very wise and clear-thinking, it remains an opinion, not something to hang a statement like “the New Testament gifts … have ceased” on. Indeed, Calvin himself, in the first sentence is a little more nuanced than that — a sign of his wisdom and clear thinking.
            The quote from Edwards is (a) post Enlightenment, and (b) rather provincial — the Christian church was hardly “established” in most of the world and the canon of scripture not available — still isn’t in many places!
            The quote from Chrysostom is interesting — he is saying “we don’t know”, isn’t he? Or, at least, “this is not my experience”? So what is the _status_ of Chrysostom’s non-experience in the quadrilateral?
            Peace

          • Jane Hildebrand

            But history can verify an occurrence, right? Especially those as miraculous as raising the dead, healing paralytics and cleansing lepers? Show me the records of where these have continued through the church age and on through today since history would surely have recorded it. God would have seen to that.

          • bs

            Jane, why would “God … have seen to that”?
            I suspect that you wouldn’t allow the canon law requirements for canonisation?
            I notice that Eric does allow for the possibility of occasional miracles. Are these “recorded”?
            So, “the miracles had ceased after that apostolic era” is too strong a claim, yes?

            Peace

          • Josh Elsom

            This is an argument from experience, not Scripture. It may well be the experience of men in history, but their testimony is no more authoritative than the testimony of men and women in recent history that have experienced supernatural phenomena today.

            If this were a debate using Scripture alone (no tradition and no anecdotal experience) continuationism wins 100% of the time.

          • Jane Hildebrand

            If I may ask, what miracles and supernatural phenomena have you experienced personally? Have you seen the dead raised, paralytics healed and the blind given sight as was witnessed in the early church?

          • Josh Elsom

            Would you believe me if I told you?

          • Jane Hildebrand

            My belief is not your goal here. You are claiming that miracles and healings have continued, therefore it is only fair you share your experience with this.

          • Josh Elsom

            Why would I spend my time providing you with evidence for what’s happened to me if your believing my stories isn’t the goal?

            Let’s be honest, if I told you that I’ve seen a deaf person healed or personally receive audible prophecy, you’re not going to believe it, are you?

            Besides, the existence of God’s gifts are not determined by my experience or your non-experience. They should only be expected, or not, based upon what Scripture alone teaches. And if you gave the bible to a person, sitting on an island, who had never read the story before, there’s no way he’d come up with cessationism.

          • Jane Hildebrand

            You are correct. If a person sitting on an island read a Bible (and were ignorant of church history), they would not know whether miracles still took place. In fact, as a new Christian, saved by reading the Bible, I joined a church that did not believe in the sign gifts and yet I wondered about those who were more charismatic than we were, thinking I may be missing something.

            So I began to speak to my charismatic friends, I studied the Bible as to what they said, and finally I attended a charismatic church. I prayed for discernment. What I saw was a twisting of God’s Word, a showy display and a seeking after signs. Having sickness, not speaking in tongues and not hearing “a word” from God was seen as a lack of faith. It was shameful and faithless.

            So forgive me if I am suspect of what you claim. My observation was not remote, but common to the teachings and practices of most charismatic/pentecostal churches.

            Besides, if God were still giving gifts of healings and miracles today, His servants would be in hospitals healing cancer and at funerals giving children back to their parents, not in churches healing invisible back pain and taking up offerings.

          • Josh Elsom

            With all due respect to your experience, sister, it’s unfortunate that your bad experience with bad teaching (in the Charismatic Movement) led you away from the plain reading of the text. But again, I must point out that you’re interpreting that plain text through a biased filter of past experience (yours and those in church history). Experience is not the final arbiter of truth, sola Scriptura.

            If you’re genuinely interested you may read about a number of my experiences here — http://joshuaelsom.blogspot.com/2013/10/providence-is-remarkable-providence.html

          • Jane Hildebrand

            Josh, I read portions of your blog where you spoke of situations where God audibly revealed things to you, i.e. a pregnancy and to pray to go the the Ambassador’s Academy. However, your argument is for continuationism, which implies a continuing of the same miracles of the early church, right? My question is, have you witnessed miracles on the same caliber as those?

          • Josh Elsom

            Are those examples not of the same caliber of those experienced by churchman in the early church? I’m neither an Apostle nor Jesus, so the manifestations of the Spirit I experience aren’t given for the same reasons. The gifts of the Spirit (including miracles and healings) were given primarily for the edification of the Church, not as signs and wonders for Jewish and Gentile unbelievers. So we shouldn’t be surprised that the nature of the manifestation differs (because the manifestations were given for different reasons).

            That said, yes, I’ve seen people manifest a gift of healings. My wife was given this gift and opened a deaf ear.

          • Jason

            Actually, with scripture alone we’re stuck in a sort of Schrodinger’s box.We know from 1 Corinthians 13:8 that miraculous signs will not always be necessary and will, in fact, cease (meaning, at some point after the scriptures were written continuationism will become wrong). Further, the context shows that Paul saw the gifts as something to be “put away” as we attain maturity.

            The question is, are we there yet? We can know that, at the time scripture was written, the church was not. They were still receiving special knowledge (which resulted in the New Testament books) as well as references throughout to prophecy, tongues, healings, etc…

            The real issue is, have the right focus. Nobody can prove that there isn’t a special language gift that nobody can understand. However, we know that it’s not beneficial to be spoken in the body (1 Corinthians 14:9). We also know that it’s less fruitful as a prayer language (verses 14-15). If we have a language that doesn’t benefit others, and doesn’t benefit ourselves as much as our native language we should take his advice in verse 12 and not use it in either context. I have difficulty explaining the benefit of a language that does not engage our own minds or those of others ever, so I think this is probably not an actual gift of the Spirit based on the commands found in scripture.

            Similarly, why do we seek the sign of healing? Is it because we want temporal prosperity in health? If so, it is love of this life (John 12:25). We become like Hezekiah.

            I have no problem worshiping beside a brother who worships God, cares for his church, and believes that there may still be instances where miraculous gifts may be given to men to perform their intended function (I’m not entirely certain they’ve ceased completely myself).

            However, my experience with those who insist that miraculous gifts are still in operation is sadly one where the focus is on the popularity and material benefits of the gifts more than on edifying the church. We know from scripture that such behavior is wrong.

          • Josh Elsom

            1 Corinthians 13:8 should be understood with 1 Corinthians 1:7 in mind. The gifts will become unnecessary at the appearing of Jesus.

            We must interpret the text in spite of how people wrongly apply the text to their situation. Do people seek healing and miracles with evil motives? Sure. Was that happening in the first century? Of course (Simon the sorcerer). Did that mean the gifts were not available in the first century? No. Then neither should it mean that they are extinct today.

          • Jason

            I agree that verse 7 is relevant. However, I don’t think that means all the gifts would be “lacking” if they weren’t being moment by moment practiced by all congregations until Jesus returns. We are only deficient in something if there is a need that is unmet.

            I agree with the rest of your statement. I don’t think 1 Corinthians 13 means they are necessarily extinct today. I think it means they WILL BE extinct when the body matures to the point where they are no longer necessary. If we’re there, than cessationists are right, if we’re not than we can be sure, from the same scripture that they are not.

            This is my point. Nobody is “right” according to scripture alone. Everyone must depend upon discernment to determine if every gift is what a person claims it to be.

            I have seen many gifts of the Spirit manifest in congregations (teaching, exhorting, encouraging, generosity, etc…) but in every case where a person claimed to have a miraculous gift they were either lying or misusing it. I know, from scripture, because the signs and wonders were being practiced in a way (and in a place) that was not beneficial for building the church into maturity (in fact, it generally saw less of the gifts I saw elsewhere where miracles were the focus).

            I understand how many people have become jaded by such experiences. I personally refuse to make the claim, based on them, that it’s entirely impossible that there could be some missionary who may get stuck needing the gift of tongues to communicate to unbelievers (which is the intended function [1 Corinthians 14:22]), but I’m more than comfortable saying that, in most cases, the perfect has already come for that gift (people can communicate without supernatural intervention in most cases).

            If you’re practicing discernment, and willing to accept that the gifts will cease to be manifest as soon as it is not necessary for the edification of the church, you’re fine.

            My experience is that those who get bent out of shape about cessationist claims usually aren’t upset because they can’t possibly know from scripture alone that they are right, but rather that they feel gifts are necessary just for the sake of the gifts themselves. Scripture does spend time speaking against this very attitude regularly.

          • Josh Elsom

            1) Miracles didn’t

  • James Quiggle

    I tend to respond to miracle claims with concealed doubt. In fact, I’m barely able to hear myself say, “Oh! Praise the Lord” over the sound of my “false Christian” detector ringing like a fire alarm in my head. Not saying that’s a good thing – just being honest. However, this article provides a framework for a non-scary conversation that could actually sharpen and encourage everyone involved.

    My only critique would be that just blurting out point #4 seems clumsy and out of place in this conversation. With the strength of the other points, serious cessationists and continuationists could actually talk about miracles without even bringing up the unwinnable debate surrounding point #4 … except maybe to help define the difference between a miraculous healing and the spiritual gift of healing.

    That’s fellowship. That’s helfpul.

    • Eric Davis

      Appreciate the feedback, James. Thanks for chiming in.

  • Jason Simmons

    I enjoyed the Post Eric , and enjoyreading your posts. I have a sideline question from your post. Isn’t fasting assumed in the N.T. but not a command? if it is a command could you give me some references for study? Thanks

    • Eric Davis

      Thanks, Jason. Apologies for the confusion. I intended to say that Scripture contains commands pertaining to fasting (e.g. “Whenever you fast…,” Matt. 6:16), though it does not command us to fast necessarily.

      • Jason Simmons

        Thank you Eric. Your posts are very insightful and clear. God Grace to you friend.

  • KPM

    A desire for the miraculous seems to flow from a deeper problem which plagues many Christians: a theology of glory.

    A theology of glory looks for God in things which are visible, especially in the works of man. When we look for God in our victory, in our prosperity, in man-made miracles, we have embraced a toxic theology of glory. Our sinful pride will always lead us to believe these are evidences of God’s love for us.

    A theology of the cross comprehends God primarily as He is displayed in His humiliation and death. Here, God is given for mankind. Here, God shows His wisdom and His love. When God cannot be seen, or felt, or perceived, by faith we look to Him in His humiliation, where He suffered for us. There, we find Him with us in our sufferings.

    A theology of glory seeks for God to be manifest in miracles. A theology of the cross looks by faith to find God in suffering and the cross.

    • Jane Hildebrand

      Amen!

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  • Harry Court

    So point 4 says ‘No miracles for Christians’ because of the apostles laid the foundation – they were for verification purposes only Jesus and the apostles…. but but but point 7 and 10 – says miracles are still performed by Satan and pagans. Umm?

    • Jane Hildebrand

      Harry, read the quotes I posted above to bs. They may give you some clarity on this issue. Blessings.

    • Matt Mumma

      Harry,

      If you look again, point #4 does not that say that there are no miracles for Christians, but says that no one has the gift of mircles as the bible describes the gift. In fact, point #2 says that God still can and does miracles. We can and should pray for God to heal people.

      While miracles can be performed by Satan, there is significant contrast to those performered by Christ and the apostles. You can read about that here http://thecripplegate.com/the-matchless-miracles-of-christ/. The validating miracles of Christ’s ministry and the early church are far different than what we see today or than what Satan can do.

      The main argument of the post is that while many people claim that they have healed people or they have the gift of healing so therefore they and their ministry are some how validated by the Holy Spirit, is not correct. The last point in the article was clear that the true sign of a persons faith or ministry is not that they claim to perform miracles (and somehow are able to fake it so now people believe them), but that they are characterized by the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-24).

  • disqus_xB05VbB36G

    on 11 what about mark 16?

    Also I have a question about John macarthurs strange fire conferance view on relevetory gift.

    That if everytime God speaks it is counted as a relevation and that it is supossed to end in heaven how can he then speak in heaven and have the relevation ended at the same time?

    • Eric Davis

      Hi there-

      On Mark 16, vv. 9-20 are almost certainly non-canonical. So, we would need to go elsewhere, like Matt. 28:18-20, to discern the Great Commission content.

      Your second question is a good one. Briefly, the answer involves understanding inspiration and special revelation. So, the Bible came about through the act of the Spirit’s inspiration, as God guided the human authors of Scripture to write the exact words he wished with the result that the 66 books of the Bible are both the very words of God and without error in the original manuscripts. Scripture is special revelation and we are not to add to it (Prov 30:5-6). In heaven, God is presumably speaking to angels, glorified souls, and others. He is not speaking for additional revelation. If he was, we can be assured that inspiration would be occurring, with the result that, in his providence, additional books of the Bible would result. So, the short answer is, “Special revelation is ended b/c the Spirit is no longer inspiring.” As God speaks in heaven, the purpose and content is for those in heaven, not special revelation. And, those times where his words from heaven appear in Scripture are for special revelation.

  • Josh Elsom

    Is there any anecdote of the exercise of a gift or miracle that you would believe given sufficient evidence? I agree with much of the warnings written here — though there are erroneous points — but something tells me that even if a story were to pass the bar you’ve set, you’d still come to the same naturalistic conclusion as a post-Enlightenment rationalist.

    • chrisleduc1

      I am wondering about your reasoning here. In your opinion, do you think the author (and those that hold to cessationism) hold this position, first and foremost, based on Scripture, or experience? I ask because you seem to be indicating that experience should have the final say..?

      What are the erroneous points you are referring to exactly?

      • Josh Elsom

        I believe the author is laying out an interpretation based upon his non-experience. He’s never experienced a miracle, therefore, he interprets the text to fit his presupposition. Charismatics often fall into the same hermeneutical error, so I’m not blind to the fact that the door swings both ways. But here’s the difference between the two, if you gave a man a bible, having no prior biblical knowledge or Christian tradition, he would never come to the conclusions of the author. Scripture is the final authority and that’s precisely why I’m a continuationist. It just so happens that my experience aligns with what you read about in the NT.

        As to the erroneous points: bad interpretations of 2 Peter 1, Matthew 7, and 1 Cor 12.

        2 Peter 1 — the proper understanding of this text has Peter pointing back to his experience with Jesus as the authentication of the OT promises.

        Matthew 7 — the kingdom of heaven is not a place, it’s not Heaven, it’s the rule and reign of Jesus as King. A minor point, of course, just a common error that annoys me.

        1 Cor 12 — there is no gift of healing or miracles in the bible. The text actually says ‘gifts of healings’ and ‘workings of miracles’. So no one ever had the gift of on going healing or miracle working. It’s more likely that people were occasionally but momentarily endowed with a temporary gift for the encouragement of the church. That’s how it happens today. That is if you have faith to believe what Paul taught about it.

    • Eric Davis

      Josh-

      Thanks for interacting with the post, friend. I appreciate the discussion. A few brief responses:

      1. Please avoid playing the post-Enlightenment rationalist card. It’s both played out and unplayable in this discussion. For one, regenerate, competent exegetes have discerned the cessationist position from Scripture for centuries, long before the Enlightenment (scroll down to #4 in this post: http://thecripplegate.com/repost-what-cessationism-is-not/). And, this post is grounded in a hermeneutic which takes the natural reading of the text.

      2. It would be best to ask questions before claiming that I have never experienced a miracle (Prov. 18:13). Though irrelevant to the points in the article, I have experienced, seen, and been made aware of things which would fall into the category of the supernatural or miraculous.

      3. In point #2, I clearly said that I do believe that God can do miracles and that we can pray for them.

      4. “If you gave a man a Bible, having no prior “biblical knowledge or Christian tradition, he would never come to the conclusions of the author.” That’s an unfortunate sweeping statement that discounts such conclusions from centuries of sound exegetes, friend. Many, many individuals throughout church history have arrived at these conclusions. Further, beware of negating prior biblical knowledge and Christian history. Wisdom was not born with us. The things of Christ are not re-invented with each generation, but studied, wrestled with, discerned by previous generations, and handed down through faithful exegesis (2 Tim. 2:2).

      5. Your understanding of 2 Pet 1:16-21 is forced (perhaps through an over-christologized hermeneutic?), and thus violates the context. Peter is not in the midst of discussing Christ as the authentication of OT promises, but pointing readers to the “more sure” revelation (Scripture) “to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in dark places,” which is Holy-Spirit-originating (2:20-21). The point is that Scripture is the interpretive authority over experience.

      6. I don’t want to assume what you are saying about Matthew 7:21-23. It appears that you are saying, “The kingdom of heaven is not a place but the sphere of Christ’s reign, thus, those professing believers who did miracles but were unregenerate [ala 7:22-23] will not be cast out from any particular place, like a future real heaven.” Sidenote, the kingdom of heaven has a larger spectrum that the rule and reign of Christ. More to the point: Christ says, “On that day…” then describes interactions with people. The scene clearly points towards a real moment in time where Christ will render final adjudication on humanity. This is also made clear in 7:19, where he describes non-fruit-bearing people as being cast into hell. Thus, the idea is real judgment from Christ on certain individuals into a real place, which is not heaven, but hell. Many of those individuals will be professing believers who seemed to perform miracles (7:22).

      7. Finally, regarding 1 Cor 12, you mentioned that “there is no gift of healing or miracles in the Bible.” Once again, that violates the plain reading of 1 Cor 12:4-11 and 12:27-31. Paul lays out the various spiritual gifts in the church, stating simply that everyone has a gift (12:7, also referring to a gift of healing, 12:30). It’s a simple passage on the spiritual gifts. One could not conclude that healing and miracles was not a spiritual gift. But either way, as is clear from, among other places, the sources cited in #4 above, whether a momentary endowment or spiritual gift, they have ceased since the apostolic era. Again, I am not saying miracles cannot occur (see #2).

      Thanks Josh.

  • Barbara

    Eric, thanks for a well thought out article. After my back to back open heart surgeries in March/April, I had serious complications that caused 1/2 my fingers (from tip to first knuckle) and toes on my left foot to “die” or turn necrotic. I’ve been slowly, recovering and have no idea what will be next, but that these digits are going to fall off!
    I have had no idea how to respond to friends who pray for me that my fingers and toes would heal. Like raising bits of me from the dead. Your article helps. I admit, I don’t think I’ve ever prayed for my own health, I feel resigned to the present. But now I guess I’m glad my friends care enough to pray death defying prayers. Best Regards. Barbara.

    • Eric Davis

      Hi Barbara! Thank you for writing and updating me on your surgery(s). I have been wondering how things went. Wow. Back-to-back…What a battle. I’m sure you have some stories to tell. I am so sorry to hear about fingers and left foot. That must be difficult! But glad to hear that you are slowly recovering.

      It’s good and right to pray for healing! I will join your friends in those prayers. -Eric